Being an indie 1 year review

April 1st marked my 1 year anniversary as a full time independent game developer. 1 year ago it was a very scary notion that I will be striking it out on my own as a independent game developer without the support of a full time job.  I had to do my own taxes, health care, dental, customer support, marketing, networking, development, art, sound (outsourced to 3rd parties), wash dishes, take care of a puppy, and clean the house. Yes being a independent game developer includes house chores and other things, especially when you are staying at home all day.

However I need to confess that being fully independent and at home is boring and dull. First of all, I am usually at home with no one else to talk to about work other than my girlfriend and my puppy. They are awesome at supporting me, but they are not co-workers that share the same passion. The puppy being more interested in treats and making a mess out of toilet paper. It is easy to lose your passion and direction in such a relaxed and unstructured environment where you are the master of your domain. This is my fault though, as I took the opportunity to actually relax and catch up on games, and just chill. Before this I really have had no big breaks between jobs since I started working for the tech industry in 2005. Sure, I had 2 week vacations here and there but it was not like a multi-month decompress and relax.

As a independent developer money was not guaranteed on a month to month basis because of the nature of ad networks. Money was good during the first few months but it began to slowly shrink as more competition popped up and more people started using the Microsoft ad network. Because of that I started doing WP7 development for other people. I worked on the Pizza Hut App on WP7 to help supplement my income. This was a boon for me two ways; it provided me extra capital to keep myself afloat during bad times, and secondly it allowed me to develop my Silverlight skills on WP7 which would prove to be a very valuable skill to have.

Which brings to me another confession, I have not been full time developing games all this year. I had to take a 40 hour a week contracting position at a startup in Seattle last November. Income from my games dwindled from an average of $4,000 to $2000. A big drop in my monthly income, which prevents me from supporting myself with just that (I have a mortgage to pay). The contract ended at the last week of march, so I come full circle as once again a full time independent game developer on my 1 year anniversary :) Sadly, the income from my games is still not enough and I am currently working on another 2 month Silverlight project on the side, while looking for a 40 hour a week “main job”.

So where does this bring me? Well, since I said before in a previous post that the WP7 gold rush has ended for me. I am on to bigger and hopefully more successful venture using HTML5 and Windows 8. Many of you have argued with me that HTML5 is still too young and currently hard to monetize. But this is a new frontier with a potential 400 million users having access to the Windows 8 app store. I intend to replicate my success with betting early with WP7 into a Windows 8 success :)

So in closing this mini rant/story of mine. I am truly happy that I have decided to take the plunge. Being able to call myself a independent game developer has opened so many doors that were previously unavailable to me. I have earned people’s trust and respect which has more value than all the money in the world combined.

 

 

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17 Responses to Being an indie 1 year review

  1. Kris says:

    That’s too bad to hear. I’m not surprised on the WP7 front though, I’ve seen very little success there myself. Why aren’t you considering iOS? I think your WP7 games would translate well to iOS and would likely be a lot more successful on that platform.

  2. Jeff Ammons says:

    I’m also looking at the HTML/CSS/JavaScript as the most sane approach to cross-platform development.

    Most of my stuff hasn’t been game related yet, but I plan to move in that direction this year, and I am looking at impactJS as well. I have no intention of trying to do it as anything more than a hobby, however, since I’m quite happy with my “day job”. :-)

    You said you want to hit Windows 8 with the web UI stack, but have you considered using PhoneGap (or similar) to use that same codebase on iOS and Android?

    To me that is the really big deal with the web UI stack.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year Windows 8 Metro apps weren’t included by PhoneGap. At least it would make sense to me.

    Good luck with your venture! I hope it works out great for you.

    jeffa

    • elbert says:

      I’ve been looking at Cordova/Phonegap. I’m targetting Win8 first, then I’ll look into Android and iOS

  3. Mike says:

    I have been developing WP7 apps on the side (in my very little free time – Parent of two, pets, fulltime job, demanding wife). I am making much less than you but have made what I call hobby money to invest in more stuff I enjoy (Like a touch screen monitor and a beasty new PC). I too plan on leveraging my skills to get into the Windows 8 game early like I did with WP7. I am using WP7 ad revenue to pay for it so all and all, I guess I feel pretty successful as the milestones I have reached didnt seam possible when I started.

  4. Deepak says:

    How do get the image/sprites for developing Games? Do you make it by yourself or you borrow from some online repository?

  5. Fred says:

    I’d hardly call it a failure – I’m positive that many more developers don’t get even their first game out let alone last as long as you did. And, you’re not done yet. You’re essentially a startup. Startups are not guaranteed instant success – this is just your first struggle of many to come, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there. Did you see the article in Business week about Rovio? 51 attempts (games they made) before they found a winner with Angry Birds. That’s persistence. You already know success just doesn’t fall into your lap. Keep going, and you’ll get there!!

  6. Allan says:

    Revenue has dipped for everyone on WP7. But yours is still far better than what a lot of us see. Our first two games have good days if they can make more then 50 cents. It’s really really humbling when something you worked on for months can’t even generate enough revenue to pay for a cup of coffee.

    I’m quite curious to see how HTML5 fares for you, I know you’ll keep us all updated.

    If you guys think WP7 is a tough marketplace to monetize, try Android sometime. It’s set up to have zero visibility for your apps and games unless you pay Google a lot of money to be advertised. Only the large devs can pay to be featured. The saturation is insane and admob is pay per click. I had 4000 impressions one day but 0 clicks. I made $0.

    • elbert says:

      No thanks with Android :) That marketplace is a crap shoot

      • Sxean says:

        Hi Elbert, yes, I’ve had to rethink my strategy as well. However, I’m finding my Android game(s) are starting to sell. Like everything else it just takes time and good marketing. Alot of the Review sites won’t even bother seeing my Game unless I pay a fee for a review. It’s getting very competitive now. Have to find new ways to get noticed. I have two games out now and a third will be finished this weekend. check it out:

        http://amzn.to/HQZNUe

        and

        http://amzn.to/xVcd58

        If you’re still interested in what I mentioned previously let me know. :)

        Thanks again,
        Sxean

  7. chris says:

    Hi Elbert,

    As always I enjoy reading your posts. It made me laugh when you wrote that being an indy developer at home is dull and boring. Having previously done some IT freelancing from home I must agree that the novelty wears off very quickly and it can be hard to stay focused.

    We are also planning on hitting windows 8 early. I think it will definitely pay off. In particular I think Windows 8 will make a big impact with hybrid devices that have both keyboard and touchscreen.

    Looking forward to reading your next post.

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